The role of vulnerability in the boardroom

As we’ve discussed previously, boards are typically made up of “experienced professionals”, that is to say - experts who tend to be upwards of 55 or 60 years old, who have lessons to impart and wisdom to share. And while having experts on the board has a lot of perks - it also leaves room for vulnerability. 



Think about it - especially for those board members who sit at the edge of new technology startups, or who have little experience working with the current generation of employees who have a different vision for what an employee experience looks like - there is much these experts don’t know.

But this is a good thing. Vulnerability, when board members own it, can benefit the board and the organisation in the long run. In this case, we are typically talking about board members asking questions, or when they admit they do not know or do not immediately have the answer. This shows that everyone is human and ultimately goes a long way.

“Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives.” - Brené Brown


Vulnerability builds trust

That’s right - showing vulnerability builds trust across the board and within the organisation. Companies and consumer behaviour have changed so much - we now buy most of our goods online and food is delivered straight to the door through the use of our phones. Is there someone on your board who could have predicted this 15 or 20 years ago when they were in their heyday? While board members may be able to find parallels between challenges they faced and more modern challenges, there is no direct comparison to be made. Being able to admit that and then say “but let’s find a solution to the problem” builds trust far more than just saying “yes, I have abundant expertise in this exact situation.”


Vulnerability breeds education 

Let’s take the above scenario - where a modern company is facing a modern problem, and the CEO goes to a board member for advice. While one person may not know, they have the opportunity to open up the issue to the other board members to seek a strategy and solution. This not only helps the organisation, but it helps those board members who perhaps have not dealt with these issues and who do not have this experience. Learning about more modern problems, and acknowledging that you don’t have the expertise, provides the opportunity to learn new ways to problem-solve - and no one is ever too experienced for that.


Vulnerability allows for diversity of thought

When leaders are vulnerable and admit they don’t have all the answers, they then have to be open to the answers of others. When a new strategy is being introduced, the vulnerable leader has to create space to listen, learn, and open their mind to something new. This not only applies to strategies for the organisation at large but for the board. Those that make the shift, for example, from a traditional board model to one that is grounded in technology - using platforms to streamline and enhance board capabilities - end up thriving as board members make the decision to try something new.


Vulnerability is a scary word, but organisations that encourage it will find that their board is more innovative and trustworthy, and more willing to take smart strategic risks.